A Tale from the Whispering Pelican
The bar wasn’t what he remembered from the time he used to drink regularly. Things had changed. The bar top was cleaner, and the smoke that used to hang in the air had all but disappeared. You couldn’t even smell the old cigarettes anymore. Healthier they said. Not like drinking to distraction was any kind of health plan. Kenny hadn’t been inside a bar like this, not since the industry had told him he was no longer wanted in their establishments.
He hadn’t been drinking, not like the old days, in quite sometime. The goal anymore was social lubricant instead of blitz fuel. He hadn’t quite gotten the hang of the new way of doing things.
Kenny tapped the rim of his shot glass when the bartender glanced in his direction. It took the man several minutes to break free of other customers and come to face Kenny.
“You lookin’ for another?” He said. “That’s what? Your fifth now?”
“Something like that.” Kenny slid the glass toward the bartender. “Get me one more and I will leave after.”
The bartender glanced at him long enough it had begun to feel like he was staring. Before Kenny could say anything he had turned back toward the liquors on the back of the bar. He pulled a bottle half full of amber liquid off the shelf and turned back to Kenny. Without picking up the shot glass he poured a splash from the bottle. “This is the last. Make it count.”
Kenny reached for the shot glass but after a few minutes so he didn’t look too eager. It had become part of the ritual. The bar tender
The bar tender had already turned away to work on a different order. Kenny lifted the glass to his nose to breathe in the aroma.
The smell had changed. It might have been his tipsy state or maybe he had gotten to accustomed to the aroma, but this one was different than he remembered. Different even, from the last shot he had had not too long ago. The bottle had been the same for each pour, but there was something that wasn’t quite right.
He sipped the liquid and felt a tingle on his tongue. Again, something wasn’t quite right. He set the glass back on the counter and pushed it to where he could get a better look at it in the pale light.
The color wasn’t quite right either. He hadn’t spent much time examining all of his previous shots but he had seen enough of them to know that this wasn’t what he remembered. He wasn’t sure what to do about it.
Kenny glanced up and down the bar. The bartender had disappeared, probably into the kitchen to pick up a dinner order. The ticket machine had started going off as orders sped in. Without anyone to catch them, the ticker tape began to stretch toward the floor. It was in this moment that he noticed something else. The bar had been crowded moments before. Now to the left of him and to the right, there were no people sitting at the bar anymore.
Sound had stopped through out the place. All he could hear had been the ticket machine. Still orders poured in and the machine was ignored. Kenny slid back in his stool and stood up. The pall of silence dug into his skin.
“Hello?” He spoke out, softly at first but when no one answered he said it again, louder and more questioning.
At first a glance around the room and then a more intense search. He was alone. The bar had been busy moments before and now he stood in a room devoid of people.
Kenny crept to the far end of the room to look into the restaurant on the outside of the barroom walls. That too had become empty of people. Skin at the back of his neck puckered and dimpled in goose flesh as he tried to guess at what might have happened. The sound of the ticket machine kept ratcheting in the silence that threatened to suffocate him.
He followed the pathway that circled the main part of the restaurant into the kitchen. This too sat empty of people. A ticket machine in the kitchen fired off as well, a never ending flow of orders and no one there to fill them.
He stepped behind the line and stopped at the flow of ticker tape. Oddly, the machine had run out of paper but it still fired off. The printer had jammed in the on position. The paper had overflowed the counter and a large portion of it had landed on the floor. In a stasis of sorts it had settled in this position.
Kenny picked up some of the paper to read it. For all the racket the machine still produced the paper that had been in it had come out blank. At least toward the end of the roll. The individual tickets had been marked in short pieces though a small section of each ticket still remained connected to the ticket before it; a large chain of paper that provided no information.
He began pulling at the end to search further down. It wasn’t until he reached the portion of the tape on the floor that he found anything with printing. Even then, it had been a progressive search through tickets that become darker and darker.
The words on the tickets were incomprehensible through most of what he could see on them. Gibberish and misspellings that made no sense even in context to the restaurant. This didn’t change by the time he found the first ticket to be printed.
He dropped the mess to the floor and glanced around the kitchen again. Still alone and the printer had finally stopped working. The silence was deafening. Even the dish washer had stopped working.
On a whim he placed his hand to the side of the machine. It burned for a moment but not because of the heat it should have had. A chill that should not have been there emanated from deep within the machine. He wasn’t seeing steam rise from the hot water. No this was water vapor that fell away from the openings of the machine.
Kenny followed the pathway to the back door of the kitchen. His only thought, what ever happened here couldn’t have happened outside. His heart pounded against his chest as he gripped the doorknob and twisted it open.
Crisp air slammed into him before he stepped through the threshold. Cold air and silence met him on the other side of the door. It opened on a parking garage at the back of the building. Cars lined the first level as far as he could see.
Like the restaurant he just left, there were no sounds, no movement in the garage. The world around him had stopped and other people had vanished. He couldn’t fathom how he had become so alone, but he had to face the reality, his new reality.
Kenny had parked on the street. His car, only a couple blocks away, would be waiting for him. And the walk to it would give him the time to think and observe the change to the world around him.
But that was it. Nothing had changed. He stepped out of the parking garage and life returned to normal. A couple stood outside their car, half a block away. In an embrace, the man had lowered his head to her ear and she laughed at what he said. The stop light on the corner went from red, to green, to yellow, and then red again. The echo of traffic on the Main Street drowned out a number of other sounds he might have heard.
Kenny examined the world unfold before him and debated on going back inside or going to his car. A simple matter to leave behind and chalk it up to an oddity. But he couldn’t shake the feeling of what happened. It wasn’t his imagination. It wasn’t a fevered dream. And with that, he turned back into the garage.
Nothing changed. The world around him didn’t melt away. What he saw and what his mind told him should be there coincided without a break in the experience. He didn’t enter the restaurant the way he came out. Instead he stepped into the foyer of the building and walked to the main doorway.
Inside, life had returned to normal. Servers traveled between the various tables and customers and into the kitchen. Everything that had been gone had returned to what should have been.
What he saw at the bar gave him pause. He glanced away and then back again to see if maybe it had been a trick of the light. But what he saw remained seated soundly at the bar.
Someone who looked too much like him sat nursing a rocks glass filled with an amber liquid.
The sudden urge to race to himself at the bar consumed him. He needed to reconnect with himself more than he ever needed to do anything else in his life. But his feet had rooted to where he stood. The thought of moving forward weighed him down further than he could understand.
He had split in that moment a portion of him needing to move forward and the other held him back with monumental force. And he watched in horror as himself at the bar turned around in the stool, stood up, and began to walk away from him.
“It’s too late.” The voice rode the air by Kenny’s ear.
With a last look at himself he sought the source of the voice. The people sitting at the tables around him ignored him. A couple looked at him, no, not at him. They looked through him to the server at a table behind him.
A new weight fell on his shoulders. The weight of the lack of sound. The disembodied voice had been the first thing he had heard since he returned to the restaurant.
“Shouldn’t have left the building.” The voice drifted past him again, this time, from a different direction.
Kenny swiveled in place looking all around himself for the voice’s source. Still nothing outside of the patrons and workers in the restaurant. The person he had been sure was himself didn’t return to the bar. “Who are you?”
“I’ve been here too.” The source stood in front of him. A woman, maybe eighteen, stepped through a server on her way to the kitchen. More to the point, the server had pushed through her without a thought that this woman took up space in front of her. The motion resembled passing through water as the woman’s body morphed around the server and then returned to form after the connection was over.
“You shouldn’t have left,” she said. She had moved closer to him, close enough to extend her hand. It wasn’t a greeting, instead she had reached over to him to place her hand on his arm.
A chill raced from his forearm into his spine, a cold electrical shock. Kenny had never felt anything like it before. It pulled at him, drew him closer to her. He tried to pull away but it intensified the more he fought against it. After a few moments the shock faded away and he caught his breath again. “Who the fuck are you?”
She smiled but didn’t answer him for a beat. Only after she returned to a neutral position, her body away from his did she finally speak again. “I was like you. But I didn’t have anyone to guide me when it happened.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
She studied him, her gaze traveling from his eyes down to his feet and then back up again. “You really don’t know, do you?”
He had had enough. Kenny spun away from her and sauntered to the bar. He took up residence at a bar stool a few seats away from where he had been sitting. After a few moments without attention from the bar tender, he waved his hands at her to get her attention.
“It’s not going to work.” The woman sat next to him, her stool swiveled slightly towards his. “They can’t see you, not anymore. They can’t hear you either. To them, we don’t exist.”
He inhaled deep into his lungs and then slowly released it. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on then?”
She touched him again, her hand resting on his forearm. “I thought you might have figured it out on your own.”
The chill didn’t hit him as hard as it did the first time. Her touch carried a warmth buried deep in its shock he hadn’t noticed the first time. “Am I dead? I can’t be dead, can I? I mean I can feel. This counter, your hand, the seat I am sitting on. I can’t be dead?”
A smile drifted across her lips as she caught his eyes with hers. A darkness lay just beneath the surface he couldn’t quite grasp. There were no words between them, but an understanding. In that moment the world melted away. The bar around them drifted out of reach and he found himself in a world of grey without sound. Panic filled him as he fought to grasp at the old world. But there had been nothing for him to grab onto. The real had slipped just out of reach. And everything went black.
After what felt like a few moments he awoke to a totally new scene. He wasn’t in the bar anymore. Instead he found himself in his car. Loud noises filled the air around him. So much noise he couldn’t concentrate enough to formulate a thought, any thought. He wanted to scream but the most that came out was a gurgle.
Kenny couldn’t move his arms or legs, couldn’t even feel them. As he sat there, the weight of the world began to crush him. Blackness filled his vision as he slipped into nothingness.
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